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Converted Tajiks Are Afraid to Talk About Their New Faith

Most of the Tajiks who changed their religion hide their new religious views out of fear of condemnation by others.

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The ethnic Tajiks representatives of the Christian missionary centre “Greace Sonmin”, say that after they converted from Islam to Christianity, they faced rejection in their families. Therefore, they hide their religion from others.

Umed (name changed) is one of them. He says that faith came to his heart when his mother, who was sick for a long time, recovered after his uncle, a Christian, prayed for her:

— When I was in the 8th grade, I always called my uncle “kafir” because he changed his Muslim faith to Christianity. When mom got sick, a lot of doctors came to her, but mom didn’t get well, she almost died.

And when my uncle prayed for her, she got well. It was like a miracle. And from that moment on, I came to believe and changed my religion.

We don’t usually discuss my religion, and I never talk to my neighbours about it. 

However, I faced the condemnation of others, so now I try not to make a display that I am a Christian.

In the beginning, even my parents didn’t accept my change of religion. But when they saw that I had not changed at all, and, on the contrary, noted that I had become better, they accepted me as I am.

But sometimes I have problems with my wife. She doesn’t understand me. We don’t usually discuss my religion, and I never talk to my neighbours about it. It is better if they do not know. I cannot explain it to everyone, as there are a lot of fanatics.

Christian centre “Greaсe Sonmin”. Presbyterian churches are characterized by minimalism – there are no icons, images of the crucifixion, altars, candles, organ music is not played. Photo: CABAR.asia

Presbyterians and Pentecostals

After the collapse of the USSR, many Christian missionaries came to Tajikistan. A number of new Protestant movements appeared in the country, such as the Pentecostal Church “Word of Life”, the New Apostolic Church and a number of others.

The Presbyterian Korean Church “Sonmin” was opened in the country in 1992; later, it was renamed to “Greace Sonmin”.

Presbyterianism is a Protestant movement in Christianity. It is distinguished by the organizational structure of the Church, which is based on the principle of election of pastors and presbyters (senior priests).
Christ is recognized as the only authoritative head of the Presbyterian Church, thus, all believers are equal in this organization. Photo: CABAR.asia
The South Korean Pentecostal Church “Sonmin Sunbogym” expanded its activities in Tajikistan in 5 years after “Greace Sonmin”.  It was officially registered and it was very popular. Back then, its congregation included about 2.5 thousand people.

Pentecostals are Evangelical Christians, fellows of the Pentecostal World Fellowship — the most numerous Protestant branch today. They attach a particular importance to the Baptism with the Holy Spirit, considering this experience equal to the one of apostles on the fiftieth day after the resurrection of Christ.

The Pentecostal doctrine calls for a righteous life: the rejection of alcohol, smoking, drugs, gambling, slander, and approves the hard work, morality in matters of family and marriage. Some conservative followers of this branch do not take up arms under any circumstances.
“Sonmin Sunbogym” became active across the country, as it provided medical and other humanitarian assistance to the families in need, and provided courses of English language computer literacy and taekwondo. In Khujand, South Korean missionaries built hospitals, clinics and educational institutions. Many of the activities of the Church used to receive approval and support from the local authorities.

But later, the religious intolerance and control over religious organizations led to misfortunes for this Church in Tajikistan.

On October 1, 2000, two bombs exploded in “Sonmin Sunbogym” Protestant Church building in Dushanbe; 8 people were killed and 48 injured.

In 2001, two students of the Islamic University in Dushanbe were convicted of organizing this terrorist attack. During the investigation, the convicts said they committed a crime for religious reasons; according to them, the Church attracted many Muslims.

In summer of 2017, the Khujand city court sentenced the pastor “Sonmin Sunbogym” Protestant Church, 42-year-old Bahrom Holmatov to 3 years of imprisonment for extremism.

“We Have Nothing to Do with Them”

There are now only two Sonmin centres in Tajikistan. The Protestant church “Sonmin Sunbogym” is located in Khujand. The centre in Dushanbe was renamed to the Christian Centre “Greaсe Sonmin”.

After the explosions, the activities of the latter were limited in the early 2000s. The Christian centre is located on the first floor of a four-storey residential building. It was not easy to find them, as there is no sign indicating the location of a Christian organization. However, the centre continues to provide free food to the poor every Tuesday and Friday.

The pastor of “Greace Sonmin” Church, who gave only his name, Marat, told CABAR.asia his church had nothing to do with “Sonmin Sunbogym”.

They go to the mosque with Muslims, but pray as Christians. 

– According to the law on religious associations, the leader must be a citizen of Tajikistan, and I am a native of Tajikistan coming from a Muslim family. I cannot tell the exact number of our parishioners, many hide their faith.

There are believers, Christians, who live in Muslim families, and they are afraid to speak openly about their religion. They go to the mosque with Muslims, but pray as Christians. Out of fear of their relatives, they hide it.

About 300 believers pray in this centre every day. Some come even from other districts to pray here. Naturally, when the new people come, we ask them how and why did they come, maybe it is that someone among their friends invited them. It would be wrong if the new people come to us, and we pay no attention to them.

We do not care for the age and religion of those who come here to eat every Tuesday and Friday. We have no problems with Muslims, and we always pray for the peace in Tajikistan.

This publication was produced under IWPR project «Forging links and raising voices to combat radicalization in Central Asia»

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